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Nature douses dilution experiment.

NATURE douses dilution experiment

An investigative team organized by NATURE reports in the July 28 issue that the results of a controversial dilution experiment published in the journal four weeks ago are "not reproducible in the ordinary meaning of that word." A repeat performance got four positive and three negative results at the University of Paris-Sud laboratory of Jacques Benveniste Jacques Benveniste was a French immunologist (March 12, 1935 - October 3, 2004). In 1979 he published in the French Compte rendus de l'Académie des Sciences a well-known paper where he contributes to the description of the structure of the platelet-activating factor and , who led the original 13 researchers.

In the original experiment, a solution of antibodies appeared to evoke a reaction from certain white blood cells White blood cells
A group of several cell types that occur in the bloodstream and are essential for a properly functioning immune system.

Mentioned in: Abscess Incision & Drainage, Bone Marrow Transplantation, Complement Deficiencies
 and change their ability to hold a stain even after the antibody solution had undergone 120 tenfold dilutions (SN: 7/2/88, p.6). After a succession of so many dilutions, it is unlikely that even one molecule of antibody would be left in the solution. That scientists from six laboratories worldwide reported a reaction brought hosannas from many practitioners of homeopathic medicine Homeopathic Medicine Definition

Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a holistic system of treatment that originated in the late eighteenth century. The name homeopathy is derived from two Greek words that mean "like disease.
, a 200-year-old practice that has endured criticism for its use of infinitesimal in·fin·i·tes·i·mal  
1. Immeasurably or incalculably minute.

2. Mathematics Capable of having values approaching zero as a limit.

 doses of drugs to stimulate a cure.

NATURE's skepticism was clinched by the final three runs of the experiment -- the only ones performed double-blind, meaning all test tubes had been randomly coded twice. The person measuring the cell's reaction to the antibodies could not have been influenced by a preconceived idea Noun 1. preconceived idea - an opinion formed beforehand without adequate evidence; "he did not even try to confirm his preconceptions"
parti pris, preconceived notion, preconceived opinion, preconception, prepossession
 of the results. All three of these runs were negative.

One partially blind run of the experiment, however, produced positive results. For this, the mixtures of antibodies and cells were randomly transferred from the test tubes onto slides by one of the observers, Walter Stewart
See also Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland.
Walter Douglas Stewart (April 19, 1931 – September 15, 2004) was an outspoken Canadian writer, editor and journalism educator, a veteran of newspapers and magazines and author of more than
 of the National Institutes of Health, well known for uncovering scietific fraud. "It was a blind reading," Stewrt explains, "but not a blind preparation of the experiment."

Also on hand were James Randi (known as The Amazing Randi, a former magician who has devoted the past 20 years to disproving pseudoscience pseu·do·sci·ence  
A theory, methodology, or practice that is considered to be without scientific foundation.

), NATURE Editor John Maddox and Randi's assistant, Jose Alvarez.

In his editoral reply, Benveniste blasts NATURE for a "mockery of scientific inquiry." He maintains the last three tests "worked poorly mainly due to erratic controls." Also, Benveniste writes, the workload imposed by the week-long inquiry influenced the results of the final runs. The whole series of experiments was carried out primarily by Elizabeth Davenas, whose name appears first on the original paper.

"That's ridiculous," says Maddox, referring to the French scientist's explanation. "We were astonished a·ston·ish  
tr.v. as·ton·ished, as·ton·ish·ing, as·ton·ish·es
To fill with sudden wonder or amazement. See Synonyms at surprise.
 at the atmosphere of the lab. They had done nothing to figure out why they had gotten these [original] results."

Also surprising to NATURE, he says, was that the first paper did not report that one of the coauthors from Israel had dropped out at the last minute in a dispute over the results, or acknowledge that a homeopathic Homeopathic
A holistic and natural approach to healthcare.

Mentioned in: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

 drug company is a financial supporter of Benveniste's lab.

Benveniste says these facts distort the journal's report. "Does homeopathic companies paying two researchers ... mean that they order them into improper conduct?" he writes.

For his part, Randi says he could spot no trickery Trickery
See also Cunning, Deceit, Humbuggery.

Bunsby, Captain Jack

trapped into marriage by landlady. [Br. Lit.: Dombey and Son]


cheated of bride after lavish wedding preparations. [Span. Lit.
 on the part of the researchers, although he did describe Davenas as a woman "very fond of rounding numbers," who recorded her data in pencil. "They just couldn't perform under pressure," he remarks. "That's the smoking gun."

The dilution research is not completely blown out of the water, however. NATURE will now begin closely examining data from other laboratories whose positive results were reported in the original paper, especially the one in Israel, which most strongly supports Benveniste's experiment. Says Maddox, "We shan't leave it alone."
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Author:Beil, Laura
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 30, 1988
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